Paul Greenberg

Cardinals Meet Red Sox in World Series. It was headline news in 1946, too. Which wasn't the only similarity between now and then. Because it was the best of times, the worst of times, like a lot of other years in always bubbling and simmering and broiling history, especially the American kind. We didn't come to this New World to stand still.

By the post-war year 1946, triumph was already giving way to tragedy. Our Fighting Russian Allies were morphing into the International Communist Conspiracy as an Iron Curtain descended over Europe, a phrase Winston Churchill would use in a speech at a small liberal-arts college at Fulton, Mo., that momentous year.

Whether prime minister or not at the time, the Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer Churchill could not help making and writing and prefiguring history. Half of America was shocked by his warning, the other half remembered the brief period when Herr Hitler's partner in aggression had been Comrade Stalin and girded for the long struggle ahead, which would be called the Cold War.

As usual after a world war, normalcy had begun to stir. A revived and recast "Show Boat," the 1927 hit, would open at the Ziegfeld on the glittering night of January 5th, 1946, for the first of 417 performances. Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly. And, yes, Americans gotta adjust till we die, and, who knows, maybe afterward.

The U.S. Army, still up to its new tricks after those blinding flashes at Hiroshima and Nagasaki had ushered in an uneasy peace, made its first radar contact with the moon in 1946. The astronomy texts were right after all. Our moon proved solid enough to bounce radar back to Earth. It wasn't just a painting up there after all. How about that?

Buck Rogers was leaving the funny papers for Page 1 in '46, and Jules Verne was becoming the stuff of current events. ("From the Earth to the Moon," 1865.)

Those dreaded V-2 rockets Wernher von Braun had designed during the war would lead the way to space travel. The race to the moon between Russia and America was on, little as either may have realized it. And the inventor of the V-2 was on his way to this country, where he would demonstrate that our German scientists were better than their German scientists. Stars were about to fall on Alabama.

The sky wasn't the limit any more -- not for the American economy, either. Wartime price controls were still holding on, but the natives had grown restive and nostalgic for open competition, the free market, and meat you didn't need ration stamps to buy. In the fall, the Democratic majority in the House became a Republican one, and the old economy, like one of van Braun's rockets, began to shudder into life.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.